Korea is where the revenge films are at these days, as The Man From Nowhere deserves a place next to Chan-wook Park's Oldboy and Jee-woon Kim's I Saw the Devil as one of the best genre offerings in recent memory. What starts off as a Korean variation on Luc Besson's Leon turns into something much more unique (and perhaps even better, if you can believe that) the more this dark fable unfolds, as a pawnshop owner (and ex-special agent) haunted by the death of his wife single-handedly takes on a drug and organ trafficking ring after the young girl he's befriended is kidnapped. Bin Won is incredible in the lead role, as his Sae-ron Kim as his ward, and writer/director Jeong-beom Lee stages some incredible action sequences (including two rather astonishing knife fights), but all of the violent razzle-dazzle is ultimately upstaged by how surprisingly touching this all ends up being; if the final embrace between the two leads doesn't move you to tears, nothing -- and we mean nothing -- will.
A haunting and visually stunning sci-fi fantasy made for, like, a hundred bucks, Ink chronicles the conflict between the Storytellers, beings who provide people with sweet dreams, and the Incubi, spirits who conjure the stuff of nightmares. One night, a rogue creature named Ink manages to kidnap the soul of a little girl, which he plans to present to the Incubi in a bid to join their ranks. As the girl's physical body lies in a coma, the specific Storytellers responsible for her subconscious well-being rush to save her. A magical and often frightening yarn, Ink owes more than a few nods to the work of Neil Gaiman and films like Dark City, Brazil and Donnie Darko but also manages to be something truly imaginative and unique on its own -- above all else, this surreal portrait of Slumberland serves as an inspiration to anyone looking to make an independent film that isn't about twentysomethings sitting around in diners and trying to have sex with each other (although, to be fair, no one seems to be making indie movies about that kind of stuff anymore).
One of the better episodes from the first season of Showtime's Masters of Horror series, "The Fair Haired Child" features director William Malone once again showing off the creepy theatrical imagery he had on display in his rather excellent House on Haunted Hill remake, turning this unsettling tale of child abduction into the darkest of fairy tales. A middle-aged musician couple (Lori Petty and William Samples, both excellent) moonlights as child abductors once a year, the result of performing a rather ill-advised demonic ritual to bring back their slain teenage son, Johnny (Jesse Haddock); the poor kid now lurks about in the basement, cursed to turn into a monster and kill one child per year for twelve years before he can become human again. The twelfth would-be victim is young Tara (Lindsay Pulsipher), whose beauty might be able to calm the beast -- and break the curse. A grim fable, to say the least, and often terrifically scary -- it only falters in the last ten minutes or so as it rushes to the finish line and makes sure Mom and Dad get theirs in the (rather unnecessarily) gruesomest way possible.
The Missing is one of Ron Howard's most underrated films and features some of his best work as a director -- the "Spielberg Lite" approach he usually utilizes is nowhere to be found in this dark Western thriller, which further fuels our theory that Howard has a doozy of a masterpiece in him that's just waiting for the right time to spring forth. Set in 1885 New Mexico, The Missing chronicles the uneasy reconciliation between a frontier medicine woman (Cate Blanchett, down and dirty and fierce in ultra-mother mode) and her wandering father who abandoned his family years ago (Tommy Lee Jones) as they track down the Apache brujo (witch doctor) that's kidnapped dozens of children -- including Blanchett's eldest daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). A violent, mean-spirited tale of revenge, rescue, redemption and survival, with Jones thankfully given more to do than just be endearingly witty/cranky and Eric Schweig making for a truly terrifying villain. Look fast for Val Kilmer as an American Cavalry officer -- apparently, shooting was going on near his New Mexico ranch and he just kind of wandered over and asked if there was a part for him.
One of the all-time best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies is definitely Commando, a portrait of '80s militarism gone explosively rogue and a film completely pure and uncompromising in its ridiculous vision -- it doesn't care about anything other than killing and blowing things up. This is an anti-anything-not-American shoot-'em-up disguised as a touching father-daughter story, in which an ex-Special Forces operative is forced to perform a political assassination after his cute offspring (Alyssa Milano) is kidnapped by idiots played by Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, Bill Duke and David Patrick Kelly. What ends up happening is Arnold wipes out the entire military population of a small island -- and, of course, gets his girl back. Schwarzenegger is definitely at the top of his game in this 1985 mini-masterpiece of genre excess -- young, confident and clearly having a blast, whether he's carrying a huge tree across his shoulder or spewing shameless one-liners like "Let off some steam, Bennett" after impaling a dude through the chest with a giant steam pipe. Awesome.
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